The York-Hanover unemployment rate is below 6 percent for the first time since the recession hit.

It dropped three-tenths of a percentage point to 5.9 percent in February, according to statistics released Tuesday morning by the state Department of Labor & Industry.

"The labor force went up, unemployment went down, and the employment count went up," said Ismael Fertenbaugh, an analyst with the state department.

One month never makes a trend, but there are some encouraging statistics in York County, he said.

The local unemployment rate has decreased 11 times in the past 12 months and is down from 7.9 percent a year ago.

Record-high employment was recently reported in a few industries: professional business services peaked in November at 20,600 jobs; transportation, warehouse and utilities jobs hit 10,300 in December; and 9,400 jobs were held in other services in December.

The health care industry continues to be largest local employer with 23,400 workers in February.

About 100 health care jobs were added during the last year in York County.

Mining, logging and construction dropped 200 jobs in February and decreased by 1,000 in the past year.

The weather could be responsible for that loss, Fertenbaugh said.

"In previous years with mild winters, those workers could do more outside work into January and February. This year was a very rough winter with constant snow, ice and bitter cold. There would've been a seasonal decline anyway, but it was exacerbated by a colder winter," he said.

The manufacturing industry dropped 200 jobs in February and 500 throughout the year. Some of that loss was a normal, seasonal drop, Fertenbaugh said.

Computerization in the industry and a skills gap in the local labor force have put manufacturing jobs in a tough spot, said Mike Smeltzer, executive director of the Manufacturers' Association of South Central Pennsylvania.

"Manufacturers are not going to hire unless they have to," he said. "When they do hire, they will be hiring one or two employees. It's very unusual that they would hire 100 at a time at this point."

But there is a lot of interest in the local manufacturing industry, said Darrell Auterson, CEO of the York County Economic Alliance.

Manufacturers have been contacting the YCEA to request information about an availibility of sites for their business and resources in the community, he said.

Auterson said he could name specific companies until deals are final.

"But hopefully there will be a lot of expansion projects or new projects in the county," he said.

The local economic development leader was encouraged by the lower unemployment rate.

"We're seeing a strengthening in the local economy. It's not a rapid recovery, but it's a slow, steady recovery. I think we're going to see a strong 2014, and I think 2015 will eclipse this year's progress," Auterson said.

With businesses showing interest in York County, unemployment numbers decreasing and home sales increasing, it's clear the local economy is rebounding, he said.

"All indicators are pointing in the right direction, and we're well positioned for a few good years," Auterson said.

—Reach Candy Woodall at cwoodall@yorkdispatch.com.